While the second season of reigning Emmy-Champs debuted and the streaming service nicknamed "Clown Co." By now reaching 20 million subscribers, CEO Randy Freer and his team will openly compete with Netflix and Amazon for tough board policies and the looming bickering takeover by Disney.
<! – [CDATA[ It looks like another great premiere. Hundreds of screaming fans stand on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard as stars work on the red carpet and fans scream for selfies. Apart from the huge posters of Elisabeth Moss and the snake of scary maids in bright red dresses and stiff white hoods standing silently on raised stands above the crowd, there is no indication that history is being written here tonight. But cool April evening, Hulu debuts for the first time an original show in the TCL Chinese Theater. "My heart is pounding," Moss says as she looks at the scene before entering the theater. "It's crazy, I grew up in LA I can not believe I'm in the Chinese theater." Then a bus with a big picture of her face rolls over on the side. For Hulu, the Little Streamer, who found himself with a big hit, this premiere on April 1
It looks like another great premiere. Hundreds of screaming fans stand on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard as stars work on the red carpet and fans scream for selfies. Apart from the huge posters of Elisabeth Moss and the snake of scary maids in bright red dresses and stiff white hoods standing silently on raised stands above the crowd, there is no indication that history is being written here tonight.
But cool April evening, Hulu debuts for the first time an original show in the TCL Chinese Theater. "My heart is pounding," Moss says as she looks at the scene before entering the theater. "It's crazy, I grew up in LA I can not believe I'm in the Chinese theater."
Then a bus with a big picture of her face rolls over on the side.
For Hulu, the Little Streamer, who found himself with a big hit, this premiere on April 1
Mainly due to Handmaids – and also Hulu's first live TV service – the company, with 10 million subscribers, has experienced the biggest growth spurt in its 10-year history. per insider, 18 percent in the last four months. Granted, that's still a fraction of the 125 million worldwide subscribers to Netflix or Amazon's 100 million prime customers (the company does not reveal how many Prime Video's see), but then Hulu is, at least for the moment, purely in-house Business. As the numbers continue to rise, it's not hard to imagine a less dystopian future in which Hulu closes the gap with Netflix's 55 million US subscribers. "I'm not a surfer," Hulu Ceo Randy Freer, 57, describes his strategy for the 1,800-man business after replacing Mike Hopkins after his sudden departure last fall. "But you want to ride this wave for as long as you can."
Still, it could be a bumpy ride. For one thing, Hulus's fragmented ownership structure – with rivals Comcast, 21st Century Fox, Disney, and Time Warner, who all hold a piece of the business – has not led to a streamlined decision-making process. On the contrary, the slow pace of development is known to frustrate creative people. And the overheated content marketplace with competing platforms that outrank each other to write massive checks has increased the cost of talent to the point where smaller players like Hulu are often priced out. Hulus' annual war chest is said to hover over $ 2.5 billion, enough to Handmaids and several other high-profile upcoming projects (a George Clooney adaptation of Catch-22 a miniseries by Reese Witherspoon) to Finance Based on Celeste Ng's Novel 2017 Little Fires Everywhere An Anthology of Mindy Kaling Four Weddings and a Funeral which may reveal THR approaching a series commission) , But it's a big change compared to Netflix's $ 8 billion worldwide budget this year or even Amazon's $ 4.5 billion for the past year. "Money is important, and we're certainly in a position to write a big check," says Hulu boss Joel Stillerman, who joined AMC in June. "But that does not help one land a project every time." However, the biggest hurdle by far is that Disney's $ 52 billion acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox is being proposed, including a buy-out of Fox's 30% stake in Hulu (1965). at a valuation of $ 8.7 billion). That would give Disney a majority of 60 percent of the company (Comcast, owner of NBC, with 30 percent and Time Warner with 10 percent). No one knows exactly how that will turn out or whether it will happen. The merger has yet to be approved by the government, or Comcast could start with its own game for Hulu. But a Disney acquisition could solve this ownership problem, at least for good. "It's an advantage to have a controlling shareholder," says 21st Century Fox President (and Hulu Board Member) Peter Rice. "It's always easier for a company to say, this is my strategic imperative, and I'll invest heavily in this." "
Freer takes a more cautious approach to the merger, but still manages to give the future the happiest face." We can not predict what might happen or not, "he says." But if and when Happens, will you look up and go, "Holy crap, Hulu has how many subscribers?" "
Hulu has always been a team of rivals, and in 2007 the owners of NBC and Fox eliminated their competitive differences to address a mutual threat: Google's acquisition of the video streaming giant YouTube Even the publicity struggle of the partnership to find a name called Snickers out (in Google they called it "Clown Co."), but eventually the company received a $ 100 million investment from Providence Equity Partners a strategy – distributed the last episodes of its owners' broadcasting shows for free (but with advertisements) over the Internet – and even got a name that founder Jason Kilar claimed was inspired by the Mandarin word for "keeper of valuable things." Then came Disney in addition – he licensed the shows of ABC as part of the deal – and joined three of Hollywood's biggest competitors in an unlikely (and often unruly) company marriage.
By 2013, Hulu had introduced a pay subscription service (subscribers now pay $ 8) a month or $ 12 to avoid the ads) and had attracted about 5 million members, but corporate battles – especially between Kilar and the board – made growth difficult. After Kilar resigned in the same year, Hulu started serious buy offers from people like DirectTV and Peter Chernin's company. For a minute, the board considered taking one. But at the same time, Netflix's House of Cards dropped the $ 100 million Kevin Spacey-as-President drama, and the stakes in the streaming world were many times greater. Instead of selling, Disney, Fox and Comcast decided to double and give Netflix a run for its money. They pumped $ 750 million to Hulu and installed one of their own, Fox Networks sales chief Mike Hopkins, as CEO.
Hopkins was busy transforming Hulu into a more serious TV buyer, including picking up The Mindy Project in a deal that saved the Fox comedy from being canceled, as well as buying a drama from Jason Reitman ( Casual ) and a time travel thriller by JJ Abrams ( 11/22/63 ). Under Hopkins, Hulu has more than doubled, launching more than 12 million subs and launching a 40-per-month live TV service in the spring of 2017, paving the way for the live streaming segment. "Mike did a heroic job, bringing order to the chaos that Hulu was," says Freer of his predecessor. Nevertheless, Hulu had not yet found his House of Cards .
By mid-2015, when the boss of the originals, Beatrice Springborn, had purchased the screenplay from Ilene Chaiken for a TV version of The History of the Maid the MGM. A canvas adaptation of 1985's Margaret Atwood's novel had already been tried before – a much-anticipated 1990 film starring Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway – and the TV project did not generate much buzz (Showtime was already over). But Hulu saw an opportunity and offered a direct order, depending on talent, and beat FX, the only other bidder.
A recast of Eureka Scribe (and Atwood Superfan) Bruce Miller enough to grab the attention of Elisabeth Moss. But the now-35-year-old actress, recovering from her outstanding role as Peggy in Mad Men (for which she was nominated for six Emmys), needed something convincing to immerse herself in another big TV set Engagement. That was when Warren Littlefield, who worked with MGM on FX Fargo got a call from his agent who invited him Handmaid as producer, his first job is to persuade Moss to sign up. He said, "Lizzie Moss is in Australia and makes Top of the Lake 2 . She is interested in Handmaid ]. You need to talk to her, get her approval, let her agree to do the show, "Littlefield recalls," and I was like, "Oh, OK. That's all do I have to do? & # 39; After a two-hour conversation, Moss agreed. Handmaid & # 39; s has gotten the green light.
The production started in late 2016 and in an alternate reality, the show that was made could have been a dark critical favorite that few people saw. But then Trump beat Hillary Clinton. Overnight, Atwood's 30-year-old dystopian story took on a new and alarming urgency for many.
At some point in the weeks following the presidential elections of 2016, Hulu executives realized that American voters had only once given them a lifetime marketing opportunity. They nearly doubled the budget before the premiere of Handmaid a move that was supposed to go beyond $ 10 million, and bought a Super Bowl ad at the usual $ 5 million rate. At the last minute they added an overtime purchase for a second place – like that would ever happen. Then it was the New England Patriots who recovered from a 25-point deficit to tie the game. The two Handmaid ads were seen by about 111 million viewers. Within days, Atwood's novel reached the Amazon bestseller list. Craig Erwich: "Sometimes the universe sends you a signal and that was definitely a signal."
After the women's march in January 2017 was still fresh in the nation's consciousness, Hulu dropped the first three episodes on April 26. The New York Times praised the show as "unflinching, vital and uncanny as hell". While everyone had focused on Netflix and Amazon's fight for streaming dominance, Hulu had launched a surprise attack. Overnight it became an Emmy candidate. "They had the ambition and they had the talent, but they still got their sea legs," says Abrams, who has teamed up again with Hulu for the Anthology series Stephen King Castle Rock which debuts this summer. "Now they are in that grandiose rhythm, there's a threshold that's crossed when you're galvanized, there they are."
Despite the Emmys coup, in October 2017 – just a month after Handmaid won the best drama and seven other awards – Hopkins announced that it would leave Sony Pictures Television. Behind the scenes, he is said to have collided with the board because of the decision to start the live television service; Hopkins wanted to give an international boost instead. Assembly costs (Hulu lost an estimated $ 920 million in 2017) were also a factor per source. In Hopkins' house, the Hulu board member named Freer, a 20-year-old Fox veteran known for his skills as an operator.
Freer was only a week in his new role and still learning what was "under the hood" in Hulu. On the morning of November 6, a CNBC report began circulating that Disney had negotiated with Rupert Murdoch to take over most of Fox. "We watched the process like everyone else," says Freer.
He coolly insists that little will change for Hulu when the deal comes off – "We are a joint venture today, we will be a joint venture tomorrow." he says – but that assumes that Disney and Comcast continue to play nicely when Disney takes control. Although Disney would be responsible, Comcast, as a founding member of NBC, would have an influence on the Hulu board (he will regain the three seats in September that NBCUniversal temporarily abandoned when Comcast acquired the company in 2011) and it will be possible to make major changes to Hulus To prevent business. Some analysts speculate that it might even try to buy Hulu from Disney, which plans to use the streamer as the missing piece of Bob Iger's much-talked-about triple entry strategy into the streaming business, which started on 12th. April has started from ESPN + and a still under development family service from Disney. "Now we are looking for Hulu to bring us consumer growth in the future," said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Direct to Consumer and International of Disney, explaining the company's growing interest in Hulu. "It's not a hedge anymore, it's a strategic vehicle for us."
In a conference room on Hulus Campus in Santa Monica, Erwich holds his weekly meeting with his original team. The question they have to deal with today as they crowd around a table: An A-list comedy duo has begun to look for a total purchase and is expected to choose future homes. Should Hulu make an offer? "We have to lead the conversation," says Erwich to his group and raises the bigger problem of how much Hulu should engage in talent deals. The platform still needs to sign a big name for more than a one off project. "Do we want to be business in [the overall deal]? It has become clear to me in the last two months that we have to be."
Although Hulu has no Netflix access to cash (he recently wrote nine-digit checks to lure Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes out of their elongated homes and certainly not Amazon's bottomless paperback (it cost $ 250 million for the rights to a sir of the Rings series), Hulu still has to attract top talent to be competitive. "We kicked the tires and there are a few things that happen," confirms Stillerman after Erwich's meeting is over. He suggests that Hulus's version of a talent deal might look more like a non-exclusive first-look deal.
However, working with Hulu has its advantages, and because it has no studio or international service, Hulu allows its production partners to own property rights Stillerman says: "There is no one in town with whom we can not do business."
If Hulu ever egg n make an offer to an audience abroad, it may need to adhere to these international rights. Freer admits that the company is considering doing so, but acknowledges that this moment may be over as the most popular TV shows have already been sold internationally. Instead, he suggests that Hulu could look for partners who would help him become faster and cheaper: "I find out how to solve this puzzle in an economically meaningful way."
Meanwhile, Hulu has done business with all of Lawrence Wright to The Looming Tower a Hulu original about the days before September 11 (the finale aired on April 18) Beau Willimon T  he First a Mars series with Sean Penn, to Clooney to make his Catch-22 miniseries, will begin filming in late May. Not to mention Sarah Silverman, whose politically charged talk show I Love You, America was redone just in time for the midterm elections. "I definitely wanted to do this show where I could do anything I wanted," says Silverman. "I was sort of like," Why should we pitch in a streaming network? But we were delighted with Hulus passion.
It turns out that a little passion can be a powerful thing, and it's a big reason why Springborn was able to defeat Apple earlier this year Little Fires Everywhere When she spun Witherspoon and Kerry Washington into a powerful move proving how competitive the landscape is for top TV projects, the two producers had buyers at Witherspoon in their production company – she made sure that theirs would be theirs Growing up with his own parents, Shaker Heights, Ohio, where the family drama is set up, encouraged Hulu managers to become just as personal. "We've all written letters about our connections to the material," says Springborn, for Witherspoon the letters were not the only which sealed the deal. "They are not afraid to cross borders," she says THR .
Yet, the perception in the city of Hulus is them ben-headed executive board (which includes Disney-ABC in addition to Rice and Mayer) President of television group Ben Sherwood and Chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group, Dana Walden) is too busy with programming decisions that can slow down the creative process. In fact, several sources suggest that the board played a role in Hulus's decision earlier this year to pass on Carlton Cuse Locke and Key which is considered Stillerman's favorite. Despite funding an author's room and the expensive Toronto set for the adaptation of the graphic novel, Hulu finally rejected the project. Freer disputes the board's involvement, suggesting that it does not fit with his strategy for Hulu. Although the board approves large investments in Hulu, Freer says: "In my five years of involvement, I can only think of one or two projects – actually only one project – where there were some questions."
Another blow to Hulu is that it does not produce enough content. Netflix released around 30 new shows in 2017. Hulu only had eight. Stillerman admits that the pace of development may have slowed during the change of leadership, "but I do not think we are worried about our volume of originals". What makes Stillerman more likely – as well as everyone else in Hulu – is what happens on April 25 as the second season of begins streaming The Handmaid & # 39; s Tale . How this show holds for a year and a half in the Trump presidency – now considered through the more complicated objective of the #MeToo and Time's Up Moves – will have a major impact on how Hulu is perceived by the industry. After all, it's one thing to start a hit; It's a very different thing to maintain, let alone build a streaming empire. This was something that brought at least one handmaid producer into mind when he traveled to Hulu last summer to play the upcoming season. Littlefield says, "We shit, shit, we better not drop the ball."
It looks like any other big premiere, with hundreds of screaming fans standing on either side of Hollywood Boulevard as stars work on the red carpet and fans scream for selfies, aside from the huge posters of Elisabeth Moss and the snake scary maids in bright red dresses and stiff white hoods silently standing on raised stands above the crowd, there is no indication that history is being written here tonight.
This story first appeared in the April 25 Hollywood Reporter issue Magazine Click here to get the magazine.